Fourth of July Controversy: 1986

1986: Two Hundred Tenth Anniversary of American Independence

1986: Two Hundred Tenth
Anniversary of American Independence

James W. Farley, Jr., Takes Control of Committee

The 1986 celebration year (201st Bristol celebration) began in September 1985 under a cloud of uncertainty. James W. Farley, Jr., who had sat for two years as vice chairman under Chairman Manuel Pasqual, assumed he would be nominated and elected to the position of chairman, without opposition, following the usual and traditional rise to the chair. But an unsuspected challenge was made from the floor. The name of Regina Campbell was placed in nomination for the chairperson’s seat. The resulting vote, a majority for Campbell, made her the first woman elected to chair the General Committee.

Incensed, Farley brought his concern to the Town Council, ordered another election, calling the election illegal because the Committee had not yet been reappointed.

Town Council Record: October 9, 1985
Excerpted from a lengthy proposal by Council President Sylvia

“The Committee is instructed to meet on October 16 to elect a new vice-chairperson due to the resignation of Andrew Vorro, III, and discuss the propriety and legality of the Chairperson;

“...that the bylaws be revised specifically to address elections;

“...that criteria be developed for the selection of Chief Marshal and that it be a consensus decision and not the action of one person. Also, some consideration is given to subsidizing the Marshal’s Reception;

“...that the Committee keep attendance records and submit them to the Council prior to appointments in September.”

All 76 members were reappointed to the committee and the list of four proposals were voted in favor of by 3-2, along party lines.

Special Fourth of July Committee Meeting October 30, 1985, Manuel Pasqual, presiding; Recording Secretary Elizabeth Anne Morrira, listed 69 members and 4 guests present, and…

“...Next office is that of Chairman - Sara Amaral placed the name of Gena Cambell [sic] for Chairman - Alan Merritt placed the name of Jim Farly [sic] for Chairman - Frances Holmes moved that nominations be closed - Second [by] Peg Morris.”

Votes cast numbered 69— Campbell 23, Farley 46.

With the controversy over the election of its Chairman behind it, the Committee began planning the 1986 celebration. Chairman Farley appointed members to head and serve on 39 Subcommittees. Although several supporters of Campbell’s were asked to head-up Subcommittees; Farley chose not to give Campbell a Committee to chair.

Kickoff Event Flops
The June 14, JUNEFEST, a dry version of the popular BEERFEST did not work out as planned. The several thousand dollars expected from the fund-raiser didn’t materialize. Farley explained, “It was a tough weekend, very discouraging, we didn’t make any money at all.” Trying to keep the Beerfest of the past several years afloat without any beer proved a heady task. Dubbed Junefest, the new family-oriented non-alcoholic version of the popular Beerfest was as palatable as a warm brew on a hot summer afternoon.

Later, Farley presented to the town building official John Legeiro a drawing of a plan to erect a Fourth of July sign on the corner of Washington and Hope streets on a permanent bases. The sign that was to promote the celebration on one of the busiest corners in town was never erected.

Chief Marshal Joan Doyle Roth 
At the Wednesday, April 9, committee meeting Chairman Farley introduced his choice for Chief Marshal Joan Doyle Roth. She is the second woman to hold the honored position; the first being her aunt, M. Theresa Donovan, in 1957.

Mrs. Roth told the Committee that her mother, the late Joanna E. Sullivan Doyle, was born on July 3, and always-told people she watched her first Bristol parade when she was only one-day old.

A Bristol native, Roth was in the 1944 Colt Memorial High School graduating class; she has been deeply involved in music and education for many years. She holds a bachelor and master’s degrees from Rhode Island College.

Roth had her reception at Independence Park under a red, white, and blue striped tent. This was the second reception held at the Bristol Harbor side site, the first was in 1981.

The Annual Bicycle Race
The annual event, held for several years on Saturday evenings, was scheduled for Sunday morning, June 22, in the principal streets of the town.

There was a 15-mile race for juniors that got off at 9 a.m., and two more races of 15 and 20 miles each, started at 10 a.m. and at 11 a.m. unfortunately these racing times, conflicted with church service schedules and the resulting mix of church traffic and cyclists made for an unholy and confusing tie-up.

One of the many letters to the Phoenix editor by angry churchgoers, penned by Robert Perkins of 55 Smith St. is typical. He wrote that scheduling the bicycle races for Sunday morning was “stupid, selfish and arrogant.” Perkins went on to say this about Chairman Farley: “This year’s fiasco started with a sore-loser male chauvinist [James Farley], who lost the traditional election.”

The Night Before
Music spilled into the night: Dixieland, Broadway and Pop music filled the air. Beginning at 7 p.m., on the Colt Memorial School steps, upbeat sounds featured just the right joyful spirit of the Fourth. The Dixie All Stars brought a festive New Orleans Mardi Gras sound to town, and at 9 p.m., the 76th Division US Army Reserve Band from East Windsor, CT, helped Bristolians usher in the Fourth.

RI350 Torch
Bristol’s 201st celebration got a spark from the RI350 observance. Bristol runner Russell Brown carried a torch, which he received at the town line from marathoner, Bobby Doyle, who lit the torch at the Statehouse and ran the 17 miles to Bristol. Brown ran the distance from the town line to the Colt Memorial School, arriving at about 8 p.m.

The Parade
As usual the party started early in Bristol on the Fourth, in fact, as usual it was going all night long, and by 8 a.m., traffic was backed up to Barrington. However, Bristol’s 201st celebration played to less than a full house. A police estimate of 100,000 spectators was about one-third off from the previous year’s crowd. The smaller number was because the Mount Hope Bridge, the main route into town from Aquidneck Island was closed for repairs.

It was the 350th anniversary year of the founding of the State of Rhode Island and an election year — so all the state’s politicians and their supporters were out enforce leaving thousands of handbills in their wake.

It was the town’s first “bring your own beer” parade, because alcohol sales at concession stands was prohibited, but the town’s three downtown package stores were open. People brought beer by the case and left thousands of cans and bottles as evidence of their thirst.

The biggest crowd-pleasers were the South Philadelphia String Band Jitter Bugs; the Shriners, who zipped around in tiny red electric cars; a team of six Clydesdale horses pulling the Hallemore Trucking Co. wagon; and the Vietnam Vets.

Fireworks and Pops Concert 
The Bristol Fourth of July Celebration did not end until July 6. The change in date was not the only change. The fireworks show was held in Colt State Park rather than Independence Park and was preceded by a pops concert by the Rhode Island Philharmonic.

Crowds at fireworks and concert in Colt State Park caught police and park officials by surprise. Park police expected no more than 4,500 people to show up and therefore reduced the detail of officers assigned to the event from 45 to 20.

Amid fireworks, cannon fire by the Bristol Train of Artillery and an outstanding performance by the Rhode Island Philharmonic. A cheering crowd, estimated at 70,000, brought Bristol’s 201st Independence Day celebration to a stirring close¾two days late.

 The 1986 Treasury Report – Dated January 21, 1987

Income Projected Actual Fundraising 21,950.00 13,375.00 Carnival 9,000.00     9,500.00 Finance 6,500.00 7,000.00 Special Gifts 7,500.00 17,600.00 State funding       0 5,000.00 Town Funding 7,000.00 7,000.00 Television 1,000.00    950.00 Vending 8,500.00 9,000.00 TOTALS 61,450.00 69,425.00


Expenses Projected   Actual Administrative* 5,825.00    5,500.00 Military 2,750.00  2,200.00 Parade 39,600.00 35,000.00 Invitational 1,550.00   1,200.00 Public 4,475.00   5,010.00 Miscellaneous    400.00     350.00 Pops & Fireworks 22,000.00 18,540.00 TOTALS 76,600.00 67,800.00

*Administrative includes archival, badges and plaques, communications, finance, insurance, janitors, printing, stationary and postage, and public relations.

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